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The Essay in Eighteenth-Century Literature

ENGL 241.301
instructor(s):
MW 3-4:30

Writers of every era redefine the essay. In the Eighteenth Century, when essays were more important and entertaining as a genre than at any other time in our literary history, two major collections anchor the output of the many authors whom we can call essayists-"The Spectator" of Addison and Steele and "The Rambler" of Samuel Johnson. In this course, we will study the principal preparations for these two great collections by reading selections from the essays of Montaigne and all of the "Essays Civil and Moral" of Sir Francis Bacon. We will also read selections from a number of other collections: Eliza Haywood's "The Female Spectator", "The Tatler", Johnson's "Adventurer" and "Idler", Boswell's "Hypochondriack", and the famous retrospective essays on the Eighteenth Century of the hisotrian Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Essays are short, among the briefest of all genres, hence they are artistically wrought and merit close, prolonged study. One part of the appreciation of the essay will be learning about the range of the essay, from Aulus Gellius to John Updike.